This past weekend a situation occurred that was an important reminder for me about golf, and how games change. It brought up an interesting “tug of war” that still occurs between the game’s past and future, particularly on how to improve and shoot lower scores.
So I penned (well, typed) a little bit of a quick essay to explore these ideas further.
Why Are You Hitting Driver?
I was teeing off on the 10th hole at my home course, which is a 380-yard par-four. It’s not a particularly hard hole off the tee, so the driver is the correct strategic play, in my view.
One of my playing partners suggested that since the other group member and I can hit our drivers so far (relative to him), there was no reason to use them. He thought it was a mistake and that we should lay back because the hole has an unusual green complex.
Years ago, I probably would have agreed with him. Much of the popular strategic wisdom was not to hit driver where you “don’t have to” and play for safety off the tee as much as you could with a shorter club.
But armed with everything I’ve learned over the last 5+ years, I know that driver gives me the best chance to post the lowest score on the hole over the long run.
I wasn’t interested in arguing with him at the moment since we were enjoying our round; I responded with, “golf is a game of proximity.” I then hit a 290-yard drive down the middle, hit my wedge to about 8-feet, and missed the birdie putt for a routine par.
If we had more time, I would tell him to read these two articles, but it sounded like his mind was made up:
In an alternate reality, I could have bladed the wedge over the green and out of bounds. Or I could have laid back to 150 yards, knocked it close, and made birdie. But none of those scenarios matter. Smart strategic play in golf is not about singular events – it’s more about stacking the odds in your favor in the long run. We have a clearer understanding of how scoring occurs and how to make optimal decisions based on math and not just feelings.
Either way, the exchange brought up an important reminder about golf and how information changes.
It’s Always Been a Bad Game of Telephone
I’m sure many of you played some version of the game telephone in school as a kid. The teacher whispered a word or phrase into one student’s ear, and as it made its way around the circle, inevitably, it would change.
Golfers have always been caught in a loop of bad, incomplete, or misleading information. It’s one of the reasons I started this site and recently launched the Sweet Spot Podcast with Adam Young.
I don’t think I have all the answers, but I’m confident a lot of the information I give you on this site will give you a better chance at improving. A lot of what I do is “deprogramming” many of the myths I was told as a junior golfer and that many of you have heard over the years.
Keep your head down, and swinging smoothly doesn’t do the trick!
At the same time, I’ve distributed plenty of advice that I thought was correct, but upon new, better research has been declared incorrect (or perhaps a half-truth). I try not to be stubborn and change my communication when it’s appropriate.
Nostalgia Can Be a Limiting Factor
The difficult part about golf is that there is a lot of nostalgia. And there should be; it’s a wonderful game with a rich history. However, when looking at information on improvement, tons of things said in the past aren’t true.
For example, modern ball-flight laws have clarified the proper way to hit a fade or a draw. The way it used to be communicated to players was incorrect. Still, plenty of golfers learned how to hit a draw or a fade with technically wrong advice. But someone like myself struggled for years trying to hit a fade because I had the wrong cue. Now I believe golfers have a much better chance at getting it right because we have a much clearer understanding of what makes the ball curve.
Additionally, phrases like “drive for show and putt for dough” have been updated with far more nuance and accuracy. But that doesn’t stop people from thinking the reason Jordan Spieth had his dominant stretch in 2015-2016 was all because his putter was so hot (he was arguably the best iron player in the world and seldom got himself into trouble with his driver).
But because the respect for the past is so strong in golf, I still see a lot of resistance to newer, updated ideas. I even hear it every weekend on golf broadcasts when former players still cling to many of the things they were told when they first took up the game decades ago.
Many people frown upon a green-reading system like Aimpoint when they first hear about the concept (I did too). I still hear it referred to as if it’s voodoo magic. But if they took the time to learn it, they would know it’s straightforward to understand and based on logical science. That’s not to say using a modern method like Aimpoint to read the greens is the only way to do it now; it’s just another tool that can help players.
To be clear, I’m not declaring that all old information is bad. I still think Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, golf books ever written. There are certain fundamentals about the game that will never change. What I do think holds many players back is that they will stubbornly cling to older ideas just because “that’s the way I learned it.”
You’re Never Done Learning In This Game
To me, golf is a bit of a beautiful mystery. I love learning more about the game and how to get better. But at the same time, I don’t want to overload myself with too many ideas, or worse, distribute them to all of you. So I try to filter things when appropriate and keep it as simple as I can.
So when I tell players to play the back yardage and aim at the center of the green on most holes, that advice is rooted in me pouring over tons of data from multiple sources. But it’s hard to convince people not to aim at pins and try to make birdies because that’s always how people assumed they would lower their handicap.
I guess my overall plea in this article/essay is not to cling too hard to the past, especially when there is clear evidence that there is a newer, better way to do something in this game. That’s how progress works.
At the same time, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are still tons of valuable lessons to be passed down generationally in golf. I guess the hard part is discerning between the two.
My goal is always to keep digging out there for all of you and do my best to steer you all in the right direction.